Strong, intelligent, hard driving entrepreneurs who partner together do so with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and optimism toward their shared goals. These same people, being human, will inevitably experience conflict along the way. Depending on the personality styles of the co-founders, the conflict will be either thoughtfully addressed for the greater good of the entire company, will be avoided, or will erupt in seemingly unmanageable conflict. Given that the stakes are so high and what’s at risk in unresolved co-founder conflict, the tension increases exponentially when co-founders are unable to successfully deal with conflict.
Clearly, when co-founders decide to partner, they do so out of their respect for each other’s qualities: intelligence, knowledge, skills, connections, relationships, financial resources, to name a few. When co-founders start an enterprise together, they, rightfully, expect to bring all these strengths to bear for a common goal. Each expects to benefit from the other’s strengths.
Once conflict sets in, that experience of the other’s strengths can shift to a perception of strength that is working against or frustrating you.
So, the question is, how to utilize the strengths of all partners to turn conflict into an opportunity for productive gain for the partners as well as the business.
Firstly, write language into the terms of your partnership agreement that addresses how you will handle conflict – rather than try to avoid or erupt with it. Agree ahead of time how you will recognize whether you are effectively addressing conflict or whether you need outside help. Agree that the decision to bring in outside help is a strength, not a weakness. Co-founders who have agreed to bring in an executive coach who specializes in conflict resolution to help them productively resolve conflict are way ahead of the game when conflict inevitably occurs.
Secondly, co-founders who bring in an outside party during the early stages of conflict have a much higher likelihood of leveraging that conflict into productive discussion that yields valuable business results. Co-founders who wait until they are deeply entrenched in conflict, if not battle, have a much steeper, more costly and riskier hill to climb. Co-founders who move quickly to seek help resolving conflicts are much like couples who seek marriage counseling in the early stages of their marital conflict. Their level of good will is still high and they have a much higher likelihood of learning and implementing successful conflict resolution skills than those couples or co-founders who wait until they can barely stand the sight of each other or are threatening divorce.
Thirdly, rarely is one person “right” and one person “wrong.” Both people speak truths. Co-founders who learn to listen to each other, to consider each other’s perspectives, even when they do not agree, typically find solutions that are superior to the solution either one of them has arrived at on their own. Multiple perspectives are complex to assimilate, especially for hard driving entrepreneurs, but once you get your ego out of the way and actually hear what the other has to say, you’ll be reminded of the incredible knowledge, skill and experience your partner has always brought to the table. The business will thrive, just as you envision.